Democrats Drop Virtual Caucus in Iowa, Nevada on Security Issue

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(Bloomberg) -- The Democratic National Committee scrapped Iowa and Nevada’s proposals to let some people vote by telephone in their presidential nominating caucuses early next year, citing security concerns.

The proposals were intended to help people participate even if they couldn’t attend in person, but the DNC worried the plans weren’t secure and reliable. During a conference call Friday that was open to the news media, the Rules and By-Laws Committee voted by a wide margin to adopt a recommendation from DNC Chairman Tom Perez and co-chairs of the committee to abandon the tele-caucuses.

The DNC is particularly concerned about cybersecurity threats after the party’s email system was hacked in 2016 as part of Russian interference. Party members reiterated their concerns Friday about possible foreign interference in the 2020 election.

Iowa’s Feb. 3 caucuses and Nevada’s Feb. 15 date are first and third on the 2020 calendar, giving them a critical role in selecting the Democratic presidential nominee. Caucuses normally require people to show up in person, but the DNC had instructed states to make them more accessible to people with disabilities, busy work schedules or other hurdles that would make participation difficult.

During a closed-door session of the DNC’s Rules and By-Laws Committee last month in San Francisco, DNC officials raised concerns about the tele-caucusing system after experts were able to hack into a teleconference system. That system wasn’t identical to the one the states planned to use in February, though, and state party officials said they were working to address vulnerabilities.

The committee plans to reconvene in two weeks to discuss alternative proposals for Iowa to increase accessibility to the caucuses, but thus far no proposals have been made and the caucuses are less than five months away. As a result, the committee may grant Iowa a waiver for the accessibility rule.

Representatives from the Iowa and Nevada Democratic parties were on the call Friday and expressed their disappointment with the decision. They told the committee that the virtual caucus plans were the result of more than a year of work and said they were confident the technology would be secure.

“We believe the virtual caucus is a great tool that can expand accessibility while preserving the spirit of the Iowa caucus,” said Troy Price, chair of the Iowa Democratic Party.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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